How Events in the Real World Affect What Goes Into Spy Movies!

Related: Why Dr. No is Dr. YES for Spy Movie Fans

Related: Spy Movies & Real-World Connections – Part 1

Related: Spy Movies & Real-World Connections – Part 2

Contributed by: Daniel Silvestri and

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Have you ever thought about how events in the real world and other movies could affect and work their way into some of our favorite spy movies?  Well, think about it a minute because that’s what we are going to explore today on Spy Movie NavigatorDownload our podcast for more details.

At Spy Movie – the Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans –we are going to look at this now!

Real-world and spy movies

Let’s start by looking at some of the Bond films –  the most successful franchise in all of the spy films and a few others.

The first real fact is, of course, Ian Fleming got the name James Bond from one of his favorite books, Birds of the West Indies, by…. James Bond.

Dr. No was written in 1957 by Ian Fleming, published in 1958, and was his 6th James Bond novel.   The movie Dr. No, EON Production’s first Bond movie, came out in 1962.   So, here is the first instance of the real world affecting this spy movie:

  1. By 1962, both the Soviet Union and the USA were launching astronauts into space, so far ahead of the theme in the novel where the USA was launching test missiles.  In the novel, Dr. No says he is working with the Russians to disrupt American test missiles, in the movie, he is disrupting American space flights.  Also, in the movie, both the East and the West have rejected his services, and so he is a member of SPECTRE ( Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), and not working with the Russians.  The cold war between Russia (the Soviet Union) and the US in real life was heating up by the time the movie came out, so here, the movie was influenced by real-world happenings.
  2. And, in a subtle nod to life happening,  the painting of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco de Goya was stolen August 21st, 1961 from the National Gallery in London.   It was still missing when EON Productions was filming No.  So,  In Dr. No, when Bond is in Dr. No’s
    Duke of W@ellington
    National Gallery, London

    lair, he walks through the lair about to step up a couple of steps, stops and looks at a painting on an easel – it is the Duke of Wellington!  So, if you are watching Dr. No and don’t realize the painting he stops to look at is this real-life stolen Duke of Wellington, you just think, ah Bond finds that painting interesting.   Once you know the real-life incident, then this adds a brilliant glow to this scene, where the writers for EON Productions were indeed very clever and inventive.   By the way, the painting was eventually recovered in real-life and now hangs in Gallery A at the National Gallery in London once again – we saw it there while visiting Gallery # 24 wherein SPECTRE, Bond meets the new Q.

From Russia With Love1963 – released in 1963 by EON Productions as their second James Bond film, and Ian Fleming’s 5th James Bond novel published in 1957 (the year the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite), was heavily influenced by the times – and the Cold War.   The tensions between the US and the Soviets were at an all-time high.  Remember, the Cuban Missile Crisis (the showdown between Russia and the US) was in October 1962, the year EON was filming From Russia With Love.  So, once again, EON Productions was brilliant in their release of From Russia With Love!

  • In addition, check out the book, “For Your Eyes Only – Ian Fleming + James Bond” by Ben Macintyre.  Here he tells of the attempt to murder Bond on the Orient Express by SMERSH was based on a US Naval attaché in Romania, Eugene Karp, who was more than likely trying to escape from Russian agents.  He boarded the Orient Express in Bucharest in February 1950, and his body was found in a railway tunnel near Salzburg.  It was never proven the Soviet assassins did it, but it is highly probable.
  • Even SMERSH is from the Russian Smyert Shpionam = “death to spies” – and we will see this is The Living Daylights.


Goldfinger – 1964 released in 1964 by EON Productions as their third James Bond film, based on Ian Fleming’s 7th novel of the same name, published in 1959.  In the pre-title sequence in the movie (not written in the novel) is James Bond in a wet/dry suit emerging from the water, setting explosives, and then removing his wet suit to reveal a perfectly neat and crisp white dinner jacket, bow tie, etc.    Ah, you are thinking like we were thinking – what is the chance of that really happening or being able to happen?!

Well, let’s talk to MI6 about a similar WW-II operation!  In an article by David Harrison in April 2010 for The Telegraph, he reveals that a Jeremy Duns,  a British writer, was researching a new book.  He found out that a Dutch spy used a very similar technique to infiltrate a German-occupied mansion in the Netherlands during WW-II.   From the water, he emerged in a wetsuit.  Underneath this specially designed wetsuit, he wore the evening wear.  His eveningwear would make him look like he belonged, and he could slip past the guards into the party.   He was supposed to extract two comrades and escape.   Well, Jeremy Duns thinks that a Brit screenwriter, Paul Dehn, who was called in to polish up the Goldfinger script, knew about this WW-II incident because he was a former intelligence officer in WW-II.  Hmm!   The original script did not have this scene, and, as said, it was not in the novel.     He feels it is too much of a coincidence that this scene was written into the screenplay by Paul Dehn, who most certainly was aware of this WW-II operation!  True real-life incident put into the movie!

Skipping ahead, at the point in the film where Bond is captured by Goldfinger’s henchmen after another great car chase scene, Bond finds himself strapped to a metal table, as Goldfinger is about to demonstrate his new toy – a laser beam.  Here in the film, the laser beam is directed at the base of the table and is guided to rise-up between Bond’s legs, into his crotch and eventually kill him.   In the book by Fleming, published March 23 1959, there were no lasers yet – and so this device was a table saw.

The laser was not invented until 1960.   And the first working laser was built on May 16, 1960, by Theodore H. Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories based on the theoretical work of Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow. The term laser came to be an  acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”   Again, EON Productions was brilliant at integrating a real-life happening, the invention of the laser, into this film which was being shot in 1963 for release in 1964.  And at the time, this was a very high-tech scene in Goldfinger!  We cannot think of another film of any kind using a laser before Goldfinger, so here is another first for EON Productions!

This scene is famous the world over for the laser, and for the dialogue: Bond: “ You expect me to talk?”  Goldfinger” “No, Mr. Bond I expect you to die!”

Thunderball – 1965 Thunderball was Ian Fleming’s 9th James Bond novel, published in 1961, and EON Production’s 4th James Bond 007 movie, which opened in 1965.   Thunderball probably would have been the first movie produced but there were some copyright issues that were delayed in the settlement.  Kevin McClory and Fleming had worked on a script that never made it to production.

Fleming used part of it for Thunderball, and eventually, a settlement was reached.  Thunderball is the only early EON production movie where the producers are not listed as Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.  Here they are listed as Executive Producers (which is a lesser status) and McClory is listed as the producer.   Also, McClory got the right to produce his own James Bond film based on his Thunderball contributions and eventually did Never Say Never Again which is basically the same story.

But we digress!   In Thunderball SPECTRE is at it again.  So, we get away from the US versus the Soviet Union and have this other entity as the enemy again.   Remember in Dr. No we were introduced to SPECTRE.

Of course, by 1961 when the novel was published, we had lots of atomic bombs in the world, and there was an arms race between the Soviet Union and the US.  So, atomic weapons were on everyone’s minds.

  1. The basis of this story is based on real-life – people were worried about nuclear war and atomic weapons. Here, two atomic weapons are hijacked by SPECTRE who threatens to destroy a major city either in the US or in the United Kingdom.  So even though EON Productions did not make this their first Bond film, in 1965 the world was very aware of the threat from major powers building up supplies of nuclear weapons.    So, the topic was hot.
  2. The skyhook, which recovers Bond and Domino at the end, is an actual real-life device developed by Robert Fulton for the CIA in the 1950s. By letting up a line from the ground with a self-inflating balloon, a specially equipped plane can fly by and scoop up the line and the one or two personnel it was designed to retrieve.  Cool!  A real-life gadget at the time.
  3. In 1956, a Soviet cruiser came to Britain, with Nikita Khrushchev on a state visit to Britain. He was the former Premier of the Soviet Union.  It was also in 1956 where, Khrushchev said: “We will bury you” while addressing Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow on November 18, 1956.  So Soviet/Western relations were not good.   So on this visit to Britain, Britain wanted to get a look at this new Soviet ship – some reports say to examine for mine-laying hatches or sonar equipment, and other reports, like from Peter Wright’s book, “Spycatcher,”  Britain’s Naval Intelligence wanted information on the potential new propeller system this ship had.  So MI6 sent a scuba diver down (actually, two were reported as being sent) and one was a great diver, Lionel Crabb.  Crabb never returned from this mission, and a headless, handless body was found 14 months later dressed in the scuba gear he had worn on that date (April 15, 1956).  MI6 covered up the mission, saying Crabb was lost in some underwater exercise.   Many theories floated about, one being that Soviet sentries were stationed underwater to guard the ship, caught Crabb, cut his air hose and brought him aboard and he later died.  Other theories say he was shot underwater by a Soviet sniper.

Now, you will remember in Thunderball, Bond is sent to inspect the hull of the Disco Volante, Largo the villain’s boat.  Bond is discovered too by Largos frogmen, as Bond was taking photos of the hull to determine if there was an underwater hatch.   Bond, more luck than Crabb, escapes.  The photos showed an underwater hatch which leads Bond to think Largo’s entire operation (the theft of the plane carrying to nuclear missiles) might be underwater – including the plane that was hijacked.  Is there a connection between the Crabb event and these scenes in Thunderball?  The MI6 officer in charge of the Lionel Crabb underwater deployment and mission was Nicholas Elliott – a friend of Fleming’s!

  1. In the 1958 movie, Silent Enemy, (based on a true story) – 2 British battleships are sunk in Alexandria by explosives set under their hulls. The explosives, in real life, were being set by Italian scuba-divers, who were launched from a submarine using what they called, “underwater chariots” – which in Thunderball and other spy movies to come – were the underwater sleds used to transport the bombs, get divers to certain locations underwater, etc.!  In real life, they were using these underwater chariots to bring frogmen to the British ships where they would attach torpedoes and mines.  The British had to figure this out and stop it – and here, Lionel Crabb (who we mentioned earlier) was in charge of the operation to infiltrate the enemy ship, destroy their capabilities of continuing to blow up British ships!   So, in this movie we see real-life events.  Of course, we see in The Spy Who Loved Me, Stromberg’s (the villain) ship, the “Liparus,” has underwater bow hatches that capture the Soviet and US submarines (with nuclear weapons aboard).

In the same movie, Silent Enemy, ALSO, there is a great underwater battle of frogmen, cutting breathing hoses and more – just like in Thunderball and additional spy movies to come.   The Thunderball underwater scenes, filmed in the Bahamas, were set the standard for future underwater battles, and the potential connections to real-life events from World War 2 make Thunderball underwater hull investigations, and underwater battles with frogmen and underwater sleds even more grounded in reality.

Also, in Thunderball, the jet pack was real and flown by Bill Suiter, who demanded using a helmet which is why Sean Connery as Bond puts on a helmet when he takes off.

  1. Though the movie came out in 1965, Fleming’s 9th novel was published in 1961. And it foreshadowed the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the US Florida cities (like Miami, Cape Canaveral, etc).


You Only Live Twice1967 Ian Fleming’s 12th novel published in 1964 (counting the For Your Eyes Only collection of short stories, and it’s the last novel published before his death), and EON Production’s 5th James Bond 007 film which opened in 1967.  The movie has little to do with the actual novel.   Here, the beginning of the movie depicts the death of James Bond, complete with an obituary in the newspapers.   There is a burial at sea for Commander Bond, and when the body sinks to the bottom of the ocean, scuba divers retrieve the body and bring it to the awaiting submarine where it is taken aboard, the wrappings open, only to reveal a live James Bond who quips, “Request permission to come aboard, Sir.”

Thank God Bond is alive – we were worried, right?   His death was faked to throw off the enemy .  Of course, that means they knew who James Bond was, which is often the case, but that’s another podcast!

  1. The faked death of spies is definitely grounded in reality. Google Arkady Babchenko, faked his own death because being very critical of Vladimir Putin, he was certain that he would be killed by the KGB.  In a huge real-life situation in World War-II, Operation Mincemeat (Google it!) the Allies floated the body of a dead man with fake papers identifying him as a Captain who the Germans had been tracking. With papers indicating an invasion of Sardinia Italy and Greece instead of Sicily, to mislead the Germans.  Some stories say the fictitious name of the dead man was Captain William Martin, while other reports say the Germans were aware of the supposed dead man and felt he really knew something.  Regardless, the deception worked.  And the source of the plan came from Rear Admiral John Godfrey and his assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming.    Yep!
  2. We all remember Henderson, the contact Bond meets in Japan and who has key information, was based on Richard Hughes, a reporter and double agent who worked for Ian Fleming at one point during WW-II. Hughes did a lot of Bond-like things.  Hughes spent a great deal of time in Japan.   Hence, a great place to film this movie.  Google The extraordinary untold Japan story of ‘You Only Live Twice’ by Damian Flanigan, special to the Japan Times.   Great story!
  3. “Little Nellie,” the one-man autogiro that Bond flies to do surveillance in Japan was a real-life invention, developed by Ken Wallis, a Royal Air Force guy, in the early part of the 1960s. The one used in the movie was modified, of course.
  4. Of course, the Space Race played a part here too – the US and Soviet Union at the time were racing each other for outer space advantages and achievements. So, SPECTRE capturing Soviet and US space capsules is natural, given the times in 1967, two years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will land on the moon on the US Apollo 11.


On Her Majesty’s Secret Service1969 Ian Fleming’s 11th novel, published in 1963; and EON Production’s 6th James Bond 007 movie, showing in 1969.  The first Bond movies without Sean Connery, George Lazenby steps in to be Bond and to be bonded – married – to Teresa Di Vincenzo (Tracy) – played by Diana Rigg.

In his mountain-top laboratory, posing as an allergy clinic, at Piz Gloria (Schilthorn, Switzerland  Blofeld is brainwashing young women to deliver a chemical agent that will stop plants and animals from reproducing- creating a tremendous food crisis.  The setting is spectacular – we have been to Piz Gloria about 10,000 feet up!

  1. In 1968, there was an experiment done by the US Army at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Through a malfunction of a spraying nozzle, a toxic chemical was released and almost 30 miles away, over 6,000 sheep were found dead.   There was no definitive connection to the agent released and the sheep deaths, but traces of the toxic chemical were supposedly found on the carcasses.   So, draw your own conclusion!   So, when OHMSS comes out in 1969, chemical warfare and potential devastation to life through chemicals were very much real.
  2. The Soviet Union was ramping up chemical warfare research, while the US began to downgrade ours. Again, what Blofeld was thinking was not out of the realm of possibility!

Diamonds Are Forever – 1971 Published by Ian Fleming in 1956 as his 4th James Bond novel, EON Productions made it into their 7th James Bond 007  movie, introduced in 1971.    Here, Bond – Sean Connery comes back – infiltrates a diamond smuggling ring and prevents Blofeld and SPECTRE from developing a space-based laser weapon with the diamonds that could blow things up.  Blofeld was going to sell it to the highest bidder, so Bond had to stop the plot.

  1. So, Ian Fleming writes “Diamonds Are Forever” only 9 years after a woman copywriter for an ad agency wrote “A Diamond is Forever” for a DeBeers ad campaign, in 1947 – and it’s been in DeBeers campaigns ever since! See a great online article on this in the New York Times by J. Courtney Sullivan, May 3, 2013.
  2. The Burton-Taylor diamond, like 69 carats, purchased in 1969 made world-wide news. That, combined with Jacqueline Kennedy’s jewelry (diamonds and emeralds ) in the early 1960s put diamonds on the mind of everyone.  Coincidence or great timing by EON, the subject of diamonds was ripe for the 1971 launch of Diamonds Are Forever.

3 Days of the Condor 1975.  Intense movie.  Influenced by Watergate (no trust of people in power) and the oil shortages prevalent in the mid-1970s.

Moonraker – 1979 –  Moonraker,  Fleming’s 3rd novel, was published in 1955.   Rockets were just being developed after von Braun’s success with the Germans in World War II.   The novel is about a rocket being developed and that will be tested by Drax’s organization, with support of the British government.   By the time the movie was made by EON Productions in 1979,  the writers had to change the story.   It was 1979 and man had already been to the moon and back, the space shuttles were under development,  a story about a missile test would not cut it.   Trust me, the novel is a great read, and when you consider the times, it was very exciting.   So, the first real-life incident to affect this movie was

  1. The story is changed completely, except keeping Hugo Drax as the main villain, because of the rapid development of rockets, manned space flight, the moon landings and the development of the shuttle (which first flew in 1981).
  2. Secondly, the novel plot is a great one but dated for the EON Productions 11th James Bond movie in 1979. EON had originally planned to film For Your Eyes Only after The Spy Who Loved Me (one of my all-time favorite Bond movies).  But because of the development of the Shuttle in real life, and the popularity of two of the biggest science fiction films released in 1977, Star Wars (with a second planned for 1980) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  So, EON Productions, once again being clever and watching the real world and what was successful and popular, moved Moonraker up ahead of For Your Eyes Only to take advantage of the popularity and success of science fiction movies, and actual NASA advancements in space technology.
  3. Also, the concept of a space station, used in Moonraker, was based on real-life as well – the Soviets had Salyut 1 space station in 1971, and the US had Skylab up in 1973.

Once again, real-life influences major elements of the spy film genre!

The Living Daylights – 1987 death to spies, Smert Shpionam.  And the idea of a spy defecting, of course, is based on real stuff – spies defect in the real world.  In fact, Nikolai Khokhlov was a Soviet spy who defected to the west in 1953 and brought with him all kinds of spy gadgets which we will talk about in a moment.

Licence to Kill – 1989

  1. The whole premise of the film is dealing with a drug lord from South America. In 1972, then President of the United States Richard Nixon said drug abuse was “public enemy number one.”    In 1986, President Reagan of the United States called for a “nationwide crusade against drugs.”  So, drugs infiltrating and affecting thousands of lives was definitely a popular topic during the decades surrounding the release of Licence to Kill.
  2. So, Franz Sanchez, being a major drug dealer, would have garnered a lot of attention if the Department of the Drug Enforcement Administration knew of his whereabouts. So, the DEA response to Sanchez being tracked to the United States would have warranted the response it got in the movie – and probably a whole lot more.

Mission: Impossible – 1996

Between Goldeneye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) comes the first in the series of Mission: Impossible movies based on the 1960s television show.   So, 1996 was a great time to capitalize on the spy movie fans waiting for another Bond movie, and since Bourne Identity was not born until 2002.

The Mission: Impossible TV show, which I loved, certainly had an influence on the creation of the movie.   Many fans of the TV series were looking forward to the first movie.   While Phelps was the only character kept from the TV series, the mission was to be fresh, full of action and intrigue.  The concept of a rogue agent trying to make things right was not new, but this mission was done with passion.

MacGyver-like gadgets, and to some degree sophisticated gadgets, masks and deception all came from the TV show.  The original show was more like an O’Henry play, with surprise endings for the bad guys, and Martin Landau (who played Rollin Hand in the original TV series) said when interviewed after the first Mission, the original was not an action-adventure, it was more of a “mind game.  The ideal mission was getting in and getting out without anyone ever knowing we were there.” ( quote from, Martin Landau Discusses ‘Mission: Impossible’ Movies (blog), MTV, October 29, 2009.   The non-stop action is truly new to the movie.

So, we think the first film of the Mission: Impossible series was influenced by

  1. The TV show, for basic concepts, self-destructing mission messages, music, etc. and
  2. The timing, in between Bond films.
  3. The worldwide locations, like shooting in Prague, was definitely Bond–influenced, as were the opening scenes during the credits, giving glimpses into the action about to unfold.

Of course, the real Cold War spying  – going after atomic data, and lists of spies – was a regular mission of spies.   Even in 2015, the US CIA was concerned that China had stolen info on US federal employees that might expose the real names of our spies abroad.   So, the basic concept of the mission in the first Mission: Impossible movie is very grounded in reality.

The Bourne Identity2002.  9/11 made the producers think that the script, with the CIA looking like the bad guy, might be too sensitive for audiences in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.   They actually filmed alternative opening and ending sequences, but when the original was tested with audiences, they seemed to accept it very well, so the alternative opening and closing scenes were relegated to the bonus section of the DVDs (See “Fifteen Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Franchise”  by Josh Roush, July 29, 2016, online article.

Casino Royale – 2006 – certainly the popularity of Texas Hold’em worked its way into the film, instead of the as-written Chemins de Fer/baccarat game in the Fleming novel.   Also, the more realistic approach of The Bourne Identity movie may have influenced Casino Royale to more grounded in basics – although, for a reboot of the Bond franchise, one would think they would stick closely to the novel which, as the first novel, was very straight-forward, with few gadgets, and basic in execution.

Bond on Skis:  George Lazenby, who was an avid skier, is the first James Bond in EON Productions films to take to skis, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), with many of the scenes filmed in Murren, Switzerland – which we at SpyMovieNavigator have been too!  It is about 5,000 feet below Schilthorn (Piz Gloria) where Blofeld’s “allergy research institute” was located in the film.   In a night scene, Bond begins to ski down Piz Gloria, and of course is shot at, then pursued by Blofeld’s henchmen on skis.  Even Blofeld joins the pursuit, on skis.  With flares and machine guns, they pursue Bond – and of course, they know the mountain better than Bond, so they are in hot pursuit.  Great chase scene, with well-trained and skilled agents in pursuit on skis.

And in the 1977 Bond film, in the pre-title sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me, we have one of the best snow ski sequences in any spy movie film – in any film for that matter.   He gets a message from MI6 saying they need him, while he is sleeping with a woman in an Austrian winter mountain chalet.  So he leaves, with a red backpack on his back, and skis.  She immediately radios her counterparts to say he is leaving, and we have another ski chase scene, pursuers shooting at him, and at one point, Bond turns around and shoots one of the foreign agents with his ski pole gun.  Then he continues, eventually skiing off the mountain with thousands of feet beneath him – only to pop a parachute with the Union Jack to land safely.  A great pre-title sequence that has become an iconic scene around the world!  Reported filmed in Canada, the stunt man who did this, Rick Sylvester, did this in one take.  They had to wait for the weather to be just right, and not too windy.   Again, skiing and pursuit by trained assassins on skis.

In For Your Eyes Only,    Bond is pursued by sharpshooter skiers and enemy agents on specially equipped motorcycles, with spiked wheels and guns, down the mountain and eventually into a lift heading to a ski jump.   Of course, Bond must do the jump, as his pursuers wait at the bottom of the ski jump hill. The pursuit continues again on the special motorcycles chasing Bond on skis., which even includes skiing down a bobsled run.

In A View to a Kill,   Bond does it all on snow – from skiing to snowmobiling to riding one of the runners from the snowmobile as a snowboard!   Here pursued by a helicopter, snowmobiles, skiers – every well-trained assassin – but he finally escapes and to a British sub disguised as an iceberg.  Cool.   But he had a talented mob of agents, trained for winter pursuit, behind him all the way.

Of course, even The Living Daylights has a snow pursuit, as Bond and  Kara Milovy escape using her cello case as a sled, and cello to steer, they are pursued by trained agents on snow.

SPECTRE has snow scenes as well.   So, what is happening here?

In real life, of course, there were and are specialty teams in various military branches throughout the world who are expert at traveling on skis, infiltrating locations on skis, and doing other espionage stuff that very much depends on how well trained they are on skiing and moving through heavy snow conditions.

For example, in WW-II, the U.S. did not have a mountain division in their military.   Inspired by the Finnish mountaineer troops, Charles Mynot Dole – who was head of a ski patrol, an Olympic skier, a climber – began the U.S. military ski troops, brought into action just before Pearl Harbor.     They trained at 13,000 feet in the Colorado mountains, at – 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34.4 degrees Celsius) with 90 pounds of gear – just the men, packs and skis – pushed to the limits.  This will turn out to be a true “mission impossible” in World War II as this became the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army.  They were engaged against the Japanese when Japan invaded two islands off Alaska – Attu and Kiska.  Landing in fog and snow, they were able to make the Japanese retreat but confused, our troops were shooting at each other and 18 were killed.   They went back for more training, with mock battles, in sub-zero conditions.

They were called upon in 1944 in Italy, where the Allies were bogged down trying to take the Apennine mountains.  The 5th Army could not advance towards Germany.   Each ridge in the mountains had additional German defenses.  The 10th Mountain Division assessed what was needed, decided they had to take Mount Belvedere and to do that had to take Riva Ridge first.  2,000 feet up, steep, 3 – 4 feet of snow.  They climbed the unclimbable and took Riva Ridge, and the engineers erected an ingenious tramway to move the wounded and the supplies up and down the mountain.   This is the REAL stuff!  The pursuing assaults were successful, and the path open to Germany thanks to this 10th Mountain Division – trained to battle in treacherous snow conditions.   They prevailed at great cost for the campaign – with 975 killed, 3,871 wounded and 20 prisoners of war.  But they prevailed.

Another Real World War II Example

In another World War II real life adventure, the Germans controlled a heavy-water plant in Norway, and heavy-water was needed to make nuclear weapons.  On February 16, 1943, Operation Gunnerside began.  6 Norwegian commandos were dropped by parachute to join the ‘Swallow’ team on the ground.   After a few days of cross-country skiing, they joined the Swallow team.  The final assault on the heavy-water plant was set for February 27/28 1943.  The Germans controlled the plant and wanted to produce the heavy-water and ship it to Germany.   The heavy water plant was protected by mines, lights and more due to an earlier failed raid.   The Swallow team, with the 6 paratroopers, ford a winter river in a ravine and climbed a steep hill.  They followed a railway track right to the plant – because a Norwegian agent inside the plant supplied a detailed layout of the plant as well as a schedule.  This is very much like From Russia With Love, as Bond was to retrieve the consulate plans from Tania.

Except here, it is real life!  The team entered the plant by a basement cable tunnel, set explosives and escaped.  They left behind a Thompson submachine gun to make it look like British forces did it and not local resistance to avoid reprisals.  It worked!

Desperate, the Germans loaded some heavy water on a ferry bound for Germany, and the Norwegian resistance sank the ferry and all the heavy water!   Google: Gunnerside.

So, the bottom line is, many of the scenes we have seen in spy movies, and above the Bond movies, have a basis in reality – people are indeed specially trained for these special operations, and so the specially trained personnel in the Bond movies for all the winter pursuits are believable.   Some of the stunts are fantastic, but so were some of the real-life challenges that were overcome by the 10th Mountain Division and the Norwegian troops!

Gadgets: Lastly let’s look at gadgets.  As we know, gadgets are prominent in the James Bond 007 movies by EON Production, as Q proves quite the inventor.  They are also present in the Mission: Impossible series, with masks, high-tech devices like the climbing gloves, the camera glasses in Mission Impossible 1 and so on.

In the Ian Fleming books, gadgets were less prominent.   In Casino Royale, the first James Bond 00 novel, there are some gadgets, but spectacular.  Le Chiffre carries razors in various places, and one of the high-tech gadgets was a cane that doubled as a gun – which really was how they tried to first kill Bond at the casino table.  It goes on in other Fleming novels as well, with underwater equipment, the briefcase in “From Russia With Love” – which is different than what it contains in the movie.   But they are there, but less obvious and less of a focus.   There really was a Q Branch in MI6, and they came up with gadgets.  It was operational at the time Fleming was writing, and run by Charles Fraser-Smith, who Fleming knew.

Again, in this really cool book, “For Your Eyes Only – Ian Fleming + James Bond” by Ben Macintyre, he suggests that Fraser-Smith made things like a hairbrush that has a map and a saw, cameras hidden in cigarette lighters, invisible ink, magnetized matches that could act as a compass, and so on.  So, there was real stuff, and that real stuff influenced the movies, and served as a basis of many extraordinary gadgets to come in the films.

We mentioned a defector spy from the Soviet Union who defected to the West, Nikolai Khokhlov.  In the same book mentioned above, Macintyre suggests that when Khokhlov came over, he brought a lot of spy gadgets with him, including a miniature revolver that could fire toxic bullets, guns housed in cigarette lighters and lots more – for real!

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Have you ever thought about how events in the real world and other movies could affect and work their way into some of our favorite spy movies? Well, think about it a minute because that’s what we are going to…

Spy Movies & Real-World Connections – Part 2

Have you ever thought about how events in the real world and other movies could affect and work their way into some of our favorite spy movies? Well, think about it a minute because that’s what we are going to…

James Bond is to Spies What Sherlock Holmes is to Detectives

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James Bond is to Spies What Sherlock Holmes is to Detectives!

Sherlock Bond?   James Holmes?  James Bond is to spies what Sherlock Holmes is to detectives!  Let’s journey into this dark London world together and see what clues we can find!  Download our podcast!

At – the Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans –we’re going to take a look at the relationship between James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, as we look  at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming as well!

Today, we’re are going to do some sleuthing around London – well, metaphorically that is!  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming created some of the best known literary characters this world has ever known.   Both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond made the leap from the pages of novels and short stories to the big screen – and nothing has been the same ever since.

I have always been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and have read the 4 novels and 56 short stories.   When Bond came to the screen in Dr. No in 1962, followed quickly by From Russia with Love and then Goldfinger – I was hooked on Bond as well.  As you know by now, I like to collect autographs, and on this subject, I am a proud owner of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s autograph.   Amazing!   I still need to get Ian Fleming’s!

Sherlock Holmes has been in print since “A Study In Scarlet” was published in 1887 – so Holmes has been sleuthing for roughly 130 years, non-stop, while James Bond has been spying now for roughly 65 years, and is as popular today as ever.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learned a lot of what Holmes would become from his professor, Joseph Bell, at Doyle’s medical school.   Joseph Bell would use his deductive powers to diagnose problems with patients, and was usually right, and he was called upon by Scotland Yard for help.   Ian Fleming learned a lot from his Naval Intelligence experience, and his boss, Rear Admiral John Godfrey.  His real-life experience contributed immensely to his creation of James Bond and the detailed stories that surrounded Bond.   He would create espionage plans and created the 30 Assault Unit of commandos which was made up of specialized intelligence troops.    So both authors drew heavily from their real-world experience.

And for Doyle, he was a trained doctor, so the creation of Dr. Watson, and his subsequent medical knowledge, was a natural for Doyle to write about.   So Holmes was like Professor Joseph Bell, and Watson was like Doyle.  James Bond has no close sidekick on an ongoing basis, though the CIA’s Felix Leiter comes close.  But the character of Bond was, for the most part, a compilation of real-world espionage personnel Fleming grew to know in his time in Naval Intelligence, including the Serbian double agent, Dusko Popov (Codename: TRICYCLE to the British; SCOOT to the Germans).   Fleming knew Popov, and it is said that Popov was a skilled baccarat player, and won at the casino in Estoril, Portugal, witnessed by Fleming, which is one of the reasons Bond is skilled and in casinos in the first novel!.

AS AN ASIDE:  Tom and I were in that very casino in Estoril, Portugal, and in the bar at the Palacio Hotel next to the casino, where Fleming met Popov on occasion, and actually sat in the same spot they sat.

Fleming also attributed many things he liked in his life – from fast cars, to sea island cotton shirts and elegance – into James Bond.  So both authors infused their main characters with dimensions of themselves, and both authors were, of course, very well educated.

Another similarity between Doyle and Fleming is this:  Doyle was originally going to name Sherlock,  Sherrinford Holmes, and Watson was going to be Ormand Sacker.  Well, it turned out to be Sherlock and Dr. John H. Watson.

A 1952 draft of Casino Royale by Fleming, reveals James Bond’s alternate, albeit cover name: James Secretan.  This was not in the draft we examined at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in the United States, in February 2019.  They own 11 original Fleming Bond manuscripts and we examined them all page by page!  We have all wondered, why does James Bond almost always use his real name – everyone knows who he is!  Everyone of us has asked this same question reading any Bond novel or watching any Bond film.   Well, here is the answer….. drum roll please!

In an article by Susanna Lazarus on April 15 2013, she quotes Fleming’s niece, Kate Grimond, as saying: “Ian must have realized it would cause confusion if he had Bond known as Bond to his friends and the security services in London, but as Secretan for his cover name to strangers or people he didn’t want to know he was a spy.”

So when you are wondering about this the next time, then remember this!  Though, we don’t think this makes a whole lot of sense – since even Bond’s friend Mathis in the movies Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – it comes out that Mathis was his “cover” name!  See the death scene in Quantum of Solace for this tidbit!   But now we know!

In total, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 4 novels and 56 short stories over 40 years, while Ian Fleming wrote 14 works, 2 of which were collections of short stories, in about 14 years.  After the deaths of each, their characters lived on through authorized novels and stories by various authors, approved by their relative estates, and some not approved.     The Conan Doyle Estate approved a novel in 2011 to be written about Sherlock Holmes – the first approved since 1915 the last canonical novel (by Doyle himself) was published.

In a January 8 2014 ruling, a judge in Chicago ruled that Holmes was out of copyright protection – meaning anyone can write stories about Sherlock Holmes now.   Wow. Unless this ruling is overturned, this will stand.   We have not heard of it being overturned, but if you are thinking or writing a Sherlock Holmes story, you better check it out yourself.  Copyright laws have continually been extended in the US, and I think the last I heard it was 70 years after the author’s death, or something like that!

Regardless, both Sherlock Homes and James Bond have survived their respective authors’ deaths through many additional books, short stories, movies, plays, radio adaptations and more – and by many different actors.   The first Sherlock Holmes radio show was in 1937 starring Louie Hector, Clive Brook played the first speaking Holmes in film, and Basil Rathbone did 14 Sherlock Holmes movies.  But one interesting actor who played Holmes in a 1976 made-for-television movie called Sherlock Holmes in New York: Roger Moore – this was in between The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)!  Many different actors played Sherlock Holmes, and so far, through EON Productions official James Bond 007 movies, only 6 different men have played James Bond.  But the similarities are there – the characters live on!

ASIDE: Watch the entire Sherlock Holmes in New York right here!

Of course, both characters are fictional, but Conan Doyle used to get letters from people asking for Sherlock Holmes’s autograph and if Holmes could help them with a case.  Now, we don’t think many or any people out there think James Bond is a real live person . . . but who knows?!

For Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he never dreamt he would be writing so many stories about Sherlock Holmes.   After “A Study in Scarlet,” his first novel (1887), he thought he was finished.  Doyle really wanted to write historical novels – medieval stuff – but Holmes was in demand, and he wrote for the money, like Fleming said he did!  In 1891, just 4 years after his first Holmes publication, Doyle wrote to his mother, saying he was thinking of killing off Holmes – basically because Holmes was ruling his life!  His mother said No!   But in 1893, Doyle wrote, “The Final Problem” in this story, both Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarity, plunge off a cliff into Reichenbach Falls – to their deaths.

In a similar vein, Ian Fleming, at the conclusion of his fifth James Bond novel, “From Russia With Love,” (April 1957), Bond is left poisoned at the end of the novel, and his fate is unknown.   Perhaps, Fleming was going to kill him off too.   And even in Fleming’s book, “You Only Live Twice,” Bond is a Japanese fisherman, with amnesia.  Another way to get out of Bond?  Who knows!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle received such an outcry from Holmes fans demanding Holmes return!  They would not accept his death!  And Doyle, feeling trapped to keep Holmes alive, indeed resurrects Sherlock Holmes in 1903, after 10 years, and writes Holmes stories until the last one published in 1927.


Holmes and Bond

  • It has been written that all modern detective stories begin with Sherlock Holmes. And we at contend that every spy movie since Bond must tip its hat to EON Productions.
  • Holmes was a “social genius” meaning he knew how to move through society to solve his cases – through the Baker Street Irregulars, disguises, science. Bond was a spy genius – he knew what to do in most instances.   Now – there is a huge difference – Holmes did not fail often – even in the sub-plots.   He was beaten by The Woman, Irene Adler, but not in many other episodes.   Bond never really fails the ultimate goal – but in the sub-plots, a lot of people he touches dies – in Goldfinger alone, for example, both Jill Masterson and her sister Tilly Masterson both die after Bond got involved with them.   Holmes doesn’t lose too many comrades along the way, if any.
  • Holmes had some fighting skills, as he was very good with boxing, has strong hands (“The Adventure of the Speckled Band”), where he says he unbent the fireplace poker) a swift runner, has some martial arts skills as he makes reference in “The Empty House” that he has some knowledge of bartitsu – some type of Japanese martial arts (actually a combination of many modified by a man, Edward Willian Barton-Wright – which is kind of a combination of his name BART and jujitsu;, though I believe Conon Doyle calls it ‘baritsu’ in the story; he is also good with a sword and stick fighting. In short, he can take care of himself if necessary.   Though he rarely carried a weapon, he is a skilled shot as is evidenced in “The Musgrave Ritual” when he shoots the Victoria Regina insignia in the wall.  Bond is trained well in martial arts, and always carries a weapon. However, in terms of intellect, Holmes has the edge, which is why he most often did not have to fight – his powers of deduction were baffling to all – his mind is superior to any other literary mind, except maybe for Mycroft’s (his brother’s).   So both are men who take care of themselves in a fight – whether with guns or hand to hand.
  • In a chaotic London in the late 1800s, with Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes was a beacon of sanity, and hope. Every Bond story paints a chaotic world scene as well, and we develop our opinion of James Bond also as a beacon of hope for our times.
  • Both Bond and Holmes lived in London. Holmes got out of London too – to exotic places for the time, like France and Switzerland.  He traveled the world extensively for three years when the world thought he was dead.  Bond, of course, mostly gets out of London, and has been all over the world.  The movies continue to focus on exotic locales, like Bond 25 returning to Jamaica.
  • Holmes of course worked for himself, and for whatever client he accepted. Bond of course is a public servant, working for MI6, a “blunt instrument of the government” as Fleming described him once.  Holmes answers to no one but himself.  Bond must always answer to M.
  • Holmes had a great influence on real police work, as he studied forensics before there was forensics, ballistics, chemical analysis, handwriting analysis, autopsies, microscopic examination, blood analysis, going undercover with disguises – he did all these things before police forces did them! They are many shows about “The Real Sherlock Holmes: that go into how he impacted criminal investigations forever forward.  Bond, on the other hand,  had special skills that were pertinent to his line of work as a spy – he was MI6’s best gambler, he knew cars, he was the best shot, he was a quick thinker, he could outguess opponents and so on.   For Holmes, science was omnipotent and reason could solve any problems.  For Bond, it was finesse, strength, winning people over, killing skills.  Did Bond influence anything in the real spy world?  It was more the opposite.   Though, the rebreather he uses in Thunderball where he could stay submerged underwater and breath for a set number of minutes got the attention, I believe, of the real British military, as the production crew got a call.  They asked about the rebreather, and asked exactly how long you can stay submerged using it?   The answer, through the prop man who built it, was: “As long as you can hold your breath!”
  • Sherlock Holmes had very few outside interests, and really had no friends other than dear ole Watson. He was devoted to his detective work  – he had no genuine interest in art, great food, politics and so on – and he used cocaine.  Yes, he played the violin, and occasionally he and Watson went to the theater  or a concert.  But most of his time was dedicated to advancing his knowledge of detection – doing experiments, writing monographs (papers, theses) on various topics, like tobacco, etc.   And we know that Holmes, after he retires, takes up bee keeping in the countryside. We know Holmes only through Watson remember – and that friendship between Watson and Holmes is the greatest in literature.  Bond, in his world, was very similar.   At one point when asked if that is a friend, he quips, “I have no friends.”   His only true interest was in cars, and he loved his Bentley in the books, and other faster cars like the Aston Martin DB5 in the movies.   So both were very similar – as Bond was also dedicated to his job.  Both, we think, were a little out of touch with the day to day world around them.
  • ARCH-ENEMIES: Both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond had arch-enemies For Holmes, it was Professor Moriarty, the (“Napoleon of crime”) and for Bond it was Blofeld, SPECTRE, SMERSH.  Professor Moriarty was the intellectual equal of Holmes, but on the criminal side.   Many of Bonds villains, including Blofeld, are equally clever as Bond.   Though, they never just shoot him to kill him.  But the Professor didn’t just kill Sherlock Holmes either, though he tried at times to do so.  In the actual Doyle stories, Moriarty was only featured twice, but was given a greater role in subsequent stories, television and radio adaptations, and movies.
  • Though half a century apart, we don’t think Holmes and Bond lived too close to each other geographically – Holmes on Baker Street and Bond in Chelsea were probably more like 12 miles or so apart (or 19.3 kilometers).
  • What does Holmes look like? Sydney Paget’s illustrations in ‘The Strand’ magazine set the image of Holmes forever – tall, thin, pronounced nose, long lanky fingers etc.   Basil Rathbone was a perfect fit for the Sherlock Holmes films.

Bond is described by Fleming as looking like Hoagy Carmichael.   Generally, he is considered to be about 6 foot tall,  a slim build, a scar on his right cheek; blue-grey eyes; a “cruel” mouth; short, black hair, a comma of which rests on his forehead.  Some similarities, though Holmes is much taller.   Both have stern looks.

  • Holmes often said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, n matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Holmes always subscribed to the premise that data drives theory – in other words, theory should fit the data.   And we think Bond acts on that premise as well, as he collects data through observations and acts on it.   The premise follows the thread of data to the theory, and ultimately the solution.
  • Holmes in “The Sign of Four,” and Bond in The World Is Not Enough had chase scenes on the Thames in London!
  • And lastly, was Holmes a spy? There are various theories about this, because he did work for his brother Mycroft, who was a very high up person in the British Government but it is never made clear exactly what he does.   But at one point, Sherlock claims that Mycroft  “ remains the most indispensable man in the country,  “The Adventures Of The Bruce-Partington Plans?”  In that story, plans were stolen for a secret submarine, and so Holmes was doing spy work!  Bond is ALWAYS doing spy work, but Holmes is mostly doing his consulting detective work, and generally not involved in international intrigue, but sometimes he is!

Of course, James Bond lives on through additional authorized James Bond novels, with the approval of Ian Fleming Publications, and through the EON Productions 24 James Bond 007 movies to date – with Bond 25 in the works as we speak.  Bond is spying in his 66th year already!

Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of something like 120 novels since the death of Doyle, 100s of films and information segments about Holmes, radio adaptations, and live plays.   Holmes is in his 132nd year now sleuthing!  If you like Sherlock Holmes, check out a nice website,

All of this makes us believe more than ever, that James Bond is to spies what Sherlock Holmes is to detective!   That’s how BIG Bond is!

We hoped you enjoyed sleuthing and spying with us today!  Please keep coming back to our website at, download out podcasts and spy with us!  Thanks for spending time with us and for being part of our the Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans!


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